Opposition party uses mine spill to attack American environmental agency
U.S. authorities say rivers tainted by last week’s massive spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine are starting to recover, but for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the political fallout from the disaster could linger.
The agency’s critics are already seeking to use its handling of the mine spill to undercut the U.S. government’s rollout of major regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the nation’s power plants.
Both houses of the U.S. legislature are planning hearings after they return from August recess.
“The EPA is supposed to help prevent environmental catastrophes, not cause them,” said opposition Rep. Steve Scalise. “But, sadly, President Obama’s EPA has been too busy threatening American jobs with radical regulations instead of focusing on what should be their core mission.”
EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater as they inspected the idled Gold King mine on Aug. 5, just two days after Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan.
At least 15 states say they plan to sue over the new carbon restrictions, and coal-mining backers like upper house lawmaker Mitch McConnell are urging states to simply ignore the new carbon rules from Washington.
Over the last week, even ruling Democratic Party lawmakers representing states affected by the spill have criticized the agency’s response as anemic.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave a policy speech about the new carbon-reduction program at an event in Washington, D.C.. But at a news conference afterward, every question was about the mine spill. McCarthy said her agency takes full responsibility for the accident and expressed deep sorrow for the environmental harm caused to the Animas and San Juan rivers.
The EPA chief then left for a twoday fence-mending trip to the west of the U.S. aimed at showing that her agency is responsive and competent.
For opposition Republican Party figures, it was an opportunity to put the EPA on the defensive.
“I think we have seen what happens when the EPA comes after private industry — they come after them with heavy hand,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican. “Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and we have seen a lack of communication and coordination.”
Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 400 meters downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colorado, Friday, Aug. 14.